When I was invited to write a review of a leadership book for this issue of Surface Warfare magazine, my mind raced through favorite titles that have inspired me, encouraged me, and challenged me over the years. Lurid tales of World War II sea combat highlight the incredible stakes of our vocation, the inspiring biographies of military leaders and statesmen teach us the impact an individual can have on the arc of history, and the harrowing suffering endured bravely by heroic prisoners in war’s most desperate circumstances reminds us that the foundation of all courage is moral courage.
It is important to raise our eyes from the immediate challenges of our demanding jobs and shift our gaze to the proverbial horizon from time to time. It is important to be inspired—and sometimes warned—by these great lessons of history. If instead of the profession of arms, we were devoted to football, these books would be the highlight reels of touchdown catches, two point conversions, and game-saving tackles.
Equally important, though, is to condition ourselves and our ships for our own great tests. Establishing habits of excellence will ultimately be the decisive preparation for what lies ahead. Beyond the highlight reels, we need some books in our professional library with ideas for how to run two-a-day summer practices and perfect our blocking and tackling.
The Truth About Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (the pair who developed the Leadership Practices Inventory online 360-degree assessment tool used by the Navy) is a good book to consider how you can establish and practice your own habits of excellence in leadership.
Kouzes and Posner have distilled thirty years of their acclaimed research into ten “truths” that aim to transcend whatever is being celebrated in the latest trends of the leadership guru business—to get beyond the context of leadership and understand the unchanging content of leadership.
The book is available on the Overdrive app under the Navy General Library Program. I listened to it in four days of morning gate traffic waiting in line to get onto Naval Base San Diego. There is nothing earth shattering in the conclusions the book presents but that, after all, is the point. The Truth About Leadership will likely resonate with your own hard-earned leadership wisdom that you are collecting in your professional tool kit. It will clarify some of your own experience and amplify your empirical understanding of what it takes to successfully lead. Aggregating their research and the millions of data points collected in leadership surveys and workshops over the last three decades, Kouzes and Posner devote a chapter to each of these ten concepts: